Will virtual reality (VR) make us even more screen-addicted, sedentary, and lazy? CES 2018’s Best Startup Awards winner does not think so—quite the contrary. Idaho-based Black Box VR wants to use VR gaming to make us fitter. The company has programmed a HTC Vive VR headset to work in concert with a motorised cable machine. Users have to do chest presses to proceed in a simple game whose aim is killing monsters with imaginary light globes—the machine’s load automatically increases as the game goes on.

WEB Andy Black Box VR Machine 4529
Images courtesy of Black Box VR
WEB Erna Black Box VR Machine 4828

The company’s core idea, cofounder Ryan DeLuca explains, is that wedding exercise with immersive gaming makes the former much more engaging. “Video games make you sacrifice your health, but you want to keep playing. Fitness is good for your health but it’s so boring that even the best fitness athletes in the world would stop,” says DeLuca. “So we thought: ‘Let’s see whether we can use VR so that people can be inside a game and work out.’”

DeLuca—who helmed nutritional supplements e-tailer Bodybuilding.com until 2015—says that, at least anecdotally, Black Box VR’s machine acts on the user’s perception of time, so that time spent working out with the device seems shorter. “It’s like when you play video games. You decide you’ll play for one more hour, and then you end up playing for three hours without realising.” A more rigorous New York University study on the device’s properties is in the pipeline.

Black Box’s machine will debut in a San Francisco gym in August 2018. Months later, the company will start selling its product. DeLuca envisages that the machine should initially be available in gyms, as a sort of gamified personal trainer that members can book. “We are aiming for a home version later down the line, in something like three years,” he says. “One day, you’ll probably have it at home, in your own VR room.”

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